Karl-Heinz Schmiel


No. of Players:
2 - 5



It has been years since Karl-Heinz Schmiel published the game Die Macher which was focused on elections in modern-day Germany. However, this year he finally once again has approached a topic of political importance, although we have to go back in time for quite a few centuries to come to the era of ancient Rome.

In Tribun, each of the players represents a rich family of Patricians in Rome, and each of the families tries to get more powerful by gathering influence among the different factions of Rome and by possibly installing one of their family members as a Tribune, being something like an intercessor for the lower classes with high esteem and political powers.

To win the game, each of the players would need to fulfil a number of victory conditions, and at the beginning of the game each of the players receives and identical overview sheet listing the possible victory conditions and how many of them need to be fulfilled in the current game. However, already the choice of the victory conditions for the game reveals a typical Schmiel-idea, since there exist different kinds of overview sheets bearing small hourglasses, thus representing the approximate time the players would need when this set of victory conditions would be chosen for the current game.

Once the players have agreed on the victory conditions, they receive an overview sheet for their family which lists the playing options available in the game and which also serves as a placement mat for the playing material the players will acquire. The players receive some starting money and also, depending on the number of players participating, a number of playing figures (which might be characterized family members or servants). Finally, a deck of faction cards is shuffled from which each player is dealt six cards of which he may keep four. The other cards are shuffled back into the deck.

The deck of action cards contains cards of the seven different factions leaving in Rome and influencing the political life, and in a rising order of importance these factions are the Gladiators, the Legats, the Pretorians, the Plebeians, the Patricians, the Priestesses of Vesta and the Senators. The cards of each faction bear a different colour and also different values, and furthermore for each faction exists one card of a special character which is also included in the deck.

A round of play starts with new cards from the faction deck being placed at the different locations on the gameboard if there are empty spaces available. The card placement rules for each of the eight available locations are quite different, so that revealed cards are placed at the Thermae, the Forum and the Curia, while hidden cards are placed at the Latrine, the Auction place, the Catacombs and the Temple of Vesta. However, at each of the three spaces available at the Curia cards are placed until they reach a total value of "5" or more, and at the Catacombs a small stack with a total of five cards is placed.

During the following placement round, the players now in turn are allowed to send their figures to bidding spaces adjacent to the card-slots of the different locations, and the occupation of a bidding space will possibly enable a player to the take card(s) on offer there. However, only one figure may occupy a bidding space, so that the players have less and less choice as to where to place their last figures. Also available for figure placement are the two bidding spaces available for each faction which will allow up to two players to try to gain control of this faction, and finally there is a possibility to place figures at the Victory Column where it is possible to gain Laurel-Markers or the Money-space where the players will gain some money for each figure placed there.

However, before the figures at the faction spaces are evaluated, the players first have to deal with the figures on the bidding spaces of the locations:

  • A figure at the Thermae allows the player to take the adjacent card for one Sesterce.
  • At the forum, each player has to pay three Sesterces if he wants to acquire a card adjacent to his figure.
  • The card at the Latrine can be acquire for its value in Sesterces, but the player also may decide not to buy the card and will receive the value of the card in Sesterces.
  • A player with a figure at the Curia may discard one of his cards to receive the adjacent group of cards.
  • The players at the Auction place will simultaneously bid for all three cards available, with the winner taking the cards and the looser receiving the Sesterces the winner hat bid.
  • A player at a Catacombs space may look at the stack of cards available there, being allowed to purchase one of the cards for four Sesterces. Other players with figures in the Catacombs may follow, being allowed to purchase cards from the possibly reduced stack for a decreasing sum of money.
  • A player may only place a figure at the Temple of Vesta if he possesses an Faction Marker of the Priestesses of Vesta (meaning that he has or once had control over this group). If a figure is successfully placed, the player may look at the card at the Temple and may discard a card of the same faction. This sacrifice gains him an "Grace of the Gods" marker.
  • Finally, players at the Victory Column gain one Laurel marker, but they may bid cards from their hand to gain an additional Laurel Marker.

After dealing with the locations, all figures are removed from the locations and the round continues with the evaluation of the factions. A player who has placed a figure at a bidding space of a faction now must play at least two cards matching the faction colour to gain control over an uncontrolled faction. However, the cards are not discarded but placed openly in front of a player. A player who has taken control of a faction will receive a Faction Marker if he should not already possess a marker of this faction. However, the issue gets more difficult if another player already is in control of the faction, since now the player with a figure on the bidding space only may take over control of the faction if he succeeds in either playing more valuable cards of the faction or a greater number of faction cards than the current controller of the faction. Thus, it gets harder to take a controlled faction over, and if a sending player should have decided to place a figure at a bidding space for the faction as well, this player now needs to look whether he still has enough cards to take the faction over since he now has to make a better bid than the first player. In the end, only one player can get in charge of a faction, so that the withdrawing player may retain all his cards but one (which is discarded).

The gaining control of a faction gives a player access to different tokens he has to collect if he wants to fulfil the victory conditions. So, they may receive Sesterces, Laurel markers, Legions or a Scroll of Recommendation.

However, the control of a faction not only means the gaining of these one-time benefits, but a player who remains in control of the faction also will receive some kind of benefit each round while he stays in control of the faction. These benefits once again may be similar to the benefits listed above, but they might also be the possibility to exchange the Scroll of Recommendation for a Tribune-marker or other special powers like the possibility to assassinate cards other players have used to gain control of a faction.

Also important are the character cards available for each faction, and although these cards have a value of zero when making a bid for control of the faction the player using such a character will gain an additional benefit for taking the group over. Here one specific element of tactics also should be mentioned: a player only may play cards of a faction when making a bid for controlling the group. It is not possible to add additional cards to these group at a later time during the game!

The acquiring of a Tribune-marker also means the fulfilling of a victory condition. Apart from certain sums of Sesterces, Laurels and Legions other victory conditions are the possession of a "Grace of the Gods" marker or of a number of Faction Markers, and if a player should succeed a certain number of victory conditions (as listed on the overview sheet chosen fore the game), that player will be declared to be the winner. However, to prevent other players from gaining the necessary benefits and to protect a faction from being taken over, a Chariot figure is auctioned between the players at the end of the round, and the owner of the Chariot may place it onto one of his factions for the following turn, preventing any other players from making a bid for that faction for the duration of the turn.

Actually, this short description should summarize the body of the rules quite accurately, since only a few more twists are included which serve to solve any unclear situations which might arise. As you see, Tribun is a game in which the players need to collect different kinds of tokens in order to fulfil the victory conditions and become the winner, but to my mind few other authors exist which are able to fine-tune such mechanics like Karl-Heinz Schmiel. The different elements in the game work together like a clockwork made in Switzerland, and I found it especially worthwhile that, although a player might get into a leading position with control over a few important factions, the gameplay is flexible enough to prevent a player from fortifying his position. A timely assassination may be all that is needed to get another player into a position for successfully taking over a group, so that the players are required to re-adjust their strategies during the game more than once. However, there definitely is a palpable element of strategic planning in the game, since the performance of a successful faction take-over usually takes a few turns of collecting the right cards. Furthermore, Karl-Heinz Schmiel cleverly reduces the influence of luck by his clever card distribution system which uses the different locations on the gameboard.

The game actually won the audience ballot which the magazine "Fairplay" conducts during the days of the SPIEL 07 convention, and I think that it did so quite deservingly. Apart from the playing mechanism which is complex but still not overburdened, the game offers possibilities for variation like the different victory conditions and a points-based ranking system, and this is coupled with a unique, dark but interesting artwork which makes the game a rather mature product which is developed close to perfection in every aspect.

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2007 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany